From behind the scenes in a hospital to Grayson Perry’s Art Club and Paul O’Grady’s Great British Escape, take your pick for your viewing week.
Hospital – Monday, BBC Two, 9pm
Filmed just a couple of months ago, the latest episode of this urgent frontline documentary follows staff at Barnet Hospital in London as they treat elderly patients while dealing with a bed shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. The hospital, which is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, is situated in a borough with nearly one hundred care homes. The A&E department has been pushed to its limit. Winter, a time when older people are at their most vulnerable, is looming. Covid-19 is on the rise again. The point of this series couldn’t be clearer. No amount of well-meaning public applause and utensil-banging can compensate for the government’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic.
Paul O’Grady’s Great British Escape – Wednesday, STV, 8pm
This week, the nationally treasurable O’Grady reads some Chaucer to his pigs as a prologue to a sojourn in Canterbury. While there, he checks up on the major renovation of Canterbury Cathedral (“Good job I had a stent put in,” he quips while scaling its heights), pops into the cosy country pub where Ian Fleming wrote You Only Live Twice, takes a ride on a vintage steam train, and visits an endangered big cat sanctuary (they’re very keen on Calvin Klein-infused catnip, apparently). This is, quite simply, a nice series. It may not add up to much in the grand scheme of things, but God only knows we need some fleeting escape from the grand scheme of things sometimes.
Surviving Covid – Wednesday, Channel 4, 9pm
I urge you to watch this devastating documentary about four Covid patients and their families. It’s a compassionate portrait, a narration-free mosaic, of human beings dealing with tragedy. They’re not mere statistics, they have lived and they are loved. Filming started in March, during the first Coronavirus surge. The patients are in comas. Their chances of survival are slim. Various wives, husbands and children talk candidly throughout, as do the staff at King’s College Hospital in London. This is important television. Its unflinching depiction of what Covid actually does to those who suffer from it should, in an ideal world, encourage every single viewer to wear a mask, to take care of themselves and each other.
New Elizabethans with Andrew Marr – Thursday, BBC Two, 9pm
Marr’s latest essay is a scattershot dud. His stated aim is to illustrate how British society has changed dramatically during Liz II’s lengthy time on the throne – the second Elizabethan age. To that end he’s chosen a handful of notable public figures who reflect that seismic transformation. A sound idea in theory, but Marr spends far too little time on each of his nominations. The result is a superficial overview, a smash and grab advert for his tie-in book. You cannot do justice to the fascinating likes of (deep breath) Graham Chapman, Diana Dors, Ruth Ellis, Tracey Emin, Darcus Howe, Roy Jenkins, Alan McGee, Nancy Mitford, Jan Morris and Mary Whitehouse in the space of an hour. It’s pointless.
Grayson’s Art Club: The Exhibition – Friday, Channel 4, 8pm
Earlier this year, the admirable Grayson Perry delivered some emergency lockdown cheer via his Channel 4 series in which he encouraged people to express their hopes and fears through the democratic medium of art. In this one-off special, Perry and his equally splendid wife, the psychotherapist Philippa Perry, host a socially distanced Manchester Art Gallery exhibition of the work they curated during that series. Preview copies weren’t available, the show is still being edited as I type these words, but I can pretty much guarantee that it will fleetingly restore your faith in human nature. The Perrys aren’t pretentious, they’re arty egalitarians. C4 have assured us that, once lockdown is lifted, Grayson’s Art Club will make a triumphant return.
Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis – Friday, BBC Two, 9pm
In this enlightening series, Chris Packham and biologist Ella Al-Shamahi examine the life-threatening impact of climate change on the African ecosystem. They’re on a protected wildlife preserve in Tanzania, where the BBC’s Natural History Unit have built a waterhole discreetly rigged with cameras. Their aim is to study the ways in which these vital sources of water manage to support so many competing species. Episode one is liberally stocked with buffalo, warthogs, elephants, leopards, lions and zebras, who eye each other suspiciously like rival gangs in a pub carpark. But peace is maintained by their overriding need to sup from the waterhole whenever the chance arises. Some of the footage, most of it filmed at night, is extraordinary.
The Sound of TV with Neil Brand – Friday, BBC Four, 9pm
The best television theme tunes are indelibly embedded within the national psyche. In particular, the ones we grew up with invoke a Proustian rush unlike any other. Neil Brand, that estimable composer and pop culture enthusiast, knows this only too well. His latest series is an embarrassment of riches in which he celebrates the enduring spell of television music. He offers eloquent insight into how and why the best theme tunes work, with highlights including a visit to Portmeirion, where he dissects el maestro Ron Grainer’s dynamic theme from The Prisoner, and a meeting with Dick Mills of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, who analyses the great Delia Derbyshire’s ground-breaking electronic arrangement of Grainer’s Doctor Who theme. It’s all wonderful.
FILM of THE WEEK
High Society – Thursday, BBC Four, 8pm
BBC Four’s spirit-lifting season of classic Hollywood musicals continues with this sprightly remake of The Philadelphia Story. It tells the everyday story of a successful composer (Bing Crosby) hell-bent on winning back his ex-wife (Grace Kelly). Unfortunately for him, she’s about to marry again. The presence of a cynical journalist (Frank Sinatra) further complicates matters. You can’t argue with that charismatic cast, their witty screenplay and show-stopping musical numbers such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Well, Did You Evah!, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s marred by a major bum note: jazz great Louis Armstrong is conspicuously wasted in a thankless supporting role. An imperfect piece of entertainment.